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Trade Machine: What draft-day defensive trades make sense for the Falcons?

Don’t be surprised if this is the route Atlanta takes to add to its defensive line.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency nigh and the Atlanta Falcons badly in need of an infusion of talent along the trenches, it’s time to start thinking about new names to sign.

checks wallet, a gnat flies out

Oh, well, maybe not?

The Falcons aren’t exactly broke, but as things stand, they’ve got a comfortable amount of cash right now to take care of in-house business, sign their draft class, add one or two rotational pieces to the defense and save the money for a rainy day.

That could change with a few moves, but do keep in mind that, unlike last year, the Falcons do have some mid-round draft picks to play with, and those (now including the conditional picks) are now tradeable.

The league got trade-happy last spring, with defensive guys like DE Michael Bennett, CB Marcus Peters, DE Robert Quinn, DT Danny Shelton, CB Kendall Fuller, LB Alec Ogletree and CB Aqib Talib all finding new homes for mid-range draft return.

Don’t be surprised if another trade bonanza breaks out this spring, and don’t be surprised if the Falcons jump in on it. GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn are coming off a losing season, and may not be quite as warm to adding more young talent to a roster that needs more veteran presence and leadership.

Plus, trading for a guy with an existing contract means taking on his salary, and if they play that right they might be able to get great players for less.

Here are a few that come to mind.

OLB Jamie Collins for a fifth-round pick

The Cleveland Browns are fun again, and for the first time in a while, have a sound foundation to build on for the future. That probably means GM John Dorsey would love to flush his roster with more young talent.

Collins, a former New England phenom, didn’t exactly hit the ground running in Cleveland, though that’s perhaps because he wasn’t a great fit in Gregg Williams’ scheme. His speed is what defines him, which makes him more ideal for the run-and-go Seattle style Quinn implements.

A decision looms for Cleveland as to how to go about Collins’ contract and his fit in new DC Steve Wilks’ scheme, and De’Vondre Campbell only has one more year left on his rookie deal. The team could trade for Collins, renegotiate a contract to keep him from hitting his mid-teens cap hit in the future and have him around should Campbell walk. For now, he could play on the weak side and give Foye Oluokun more time to grow.

DE Robert Quinn for a fifth-round pick

The Miami Dolphins will be settling in with a new coaching staff and trying to shape the roster to head coach Brian Flores’ liking.

Quinn is a veteran rusher who spent the bulk of his time with the Rams before heading to Miami last season and joining their pass rush rotation. He’s been more of a single-sack guy over the last few years, but he’s been pretty durable the last two years and had a 38-tackle season in 2018, his highest since 2014.

The Falcons need more help at the edge position, and they need some veteran leadership there as well. Quinn could fit right in for the Falcons and start opposite Takk McKinley to give the Falcons a pretty decent pair of edge rushers (and a definite improvement over 2018). Quinn is only 28, and could play for the next five years at this level.

He’s on the books for a $12 million cap hit with no dead money before hitting FA in 2020, which makes him a candidate for release, but the Falcons could negotiate a new deal once the trade comes through. He’d be a welcome presence.

DE Jerry Hughes for a fourth rounder and a seventh rounder

Hughes is a very popular name around trade machines this spring, and it’s easy to see why.

He’s a productive veteran pass rusher on a bad team with an affordable contract, set to be a free agent in 2020. He’s the classic kind of player who gets moved this time of year, and Atlanta would be silly to not give the Buffalo Bills a call and see if they can make something work.

Hughes will be 31 when the league year begins, which means he’s probably got about four or five years left in his prime. He’d fill that need for veteran presence and leadership, as well as, y’know, the general need for that sack number to go up.

There is no doubt the Falcons need at least one new impact rusher on the roster, and there is no doubt that, if interested, they probably wouldn’t be the only team making calls. If they can get this deal done, it’d be a major boost for this position.

Other names:

The Arizona Cardinals have a top-shelf rusher in Chandler Jones they could trade for perhaps two mid-round picks or maybe even a third, but the thought of adding a guy like Nick Bosa to Jones as a bookend rusher might be too appealing to pass up.

DE Jabaal Sheard has been very sound in Indy and could be a potential target should the Colts want to get younger up front. Price: fifth.

The Giants could cut DE Olivier Vernon, but if they want to trade him, Atlanta might inquire what the price would be. He’d start Day 1. Price: fifth and seventh (in part to take the contract).

The Chiefs may not want to part ways with a veteran rusher like OLB Justin Houston, but his former coordinator Bob Sutton is now on staff in Atlanta. He’d fill a major need in a variety of ways. Price: fourth.

Are there any defensive guys you think would make for good trade candidates?